This project began last winter as an experiment. A self-assignment actually, a challenge, or even a test, to see if a bit of human intervention on my part could convert a mature aspen in a small patch of woods to a courtship stage for an amorous male ruffed grouse.

Last February, on a cold, grey afternoon, I trekked into the woods, chainsaw in hand. My plan was to drop a mature aspen tree in a small patch of woods less than an acre is size on land I own south of town. Ultimately my goal was to see if, with my intervention, a male ruffed grouse would adopt the log as his stage for one of the most unique courtship rituals in all bird creation -- drumming.

In my world as a freelancer, projects like my drumming log experiment require forethought. On the wintry day I downed the aspen tree I took time to snap a few “selfies” of my work. It was not an easy task, mentally, because, come spring, if a male grouse didn’t agree with my choice of logs, I’d never have a use for the images I took. In a way I was sort of setting myself up for failure. If my project failed -- and that was likely -- the images I took beforehand would have no value, and would likely have ended up on some hard drive, only to forgotten or eventually deleted.

With the aspen tree down, my task completed, I had only to wait until spring. Now and then, during winter, I checked the log for grouse tracks in the snow. Sometimes grouse visit their drumming logs even during the heart of winter, maybe dreaming of spring, when the days are longer, a time when he might attract a mate. Each time I checked the logs there was no sign of a grouse.

Then one day in March I heard the unmistakable thump, thump, thump of a grouse drumming and, from the direction of the sound and its proximity, I knew a hopeful male grouse had found my log to his liking.

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My next move was to place a photography blind within “shooting distance” of the log, and hopefully attain photos that would put the finishing touches to my man-made drumming log project.

And that’s just what transpired.

For the past month I’ve photographed the grouse on many occasions -- while he was drumming, strutting, even napping at times. I’ve had a ringside seat to one of nature’s most spectacular events.

And get this -- I can see and hear the grouse drumming from my house.

BILL MARCHEL is a wildlife and outdoors photographer and writer whose work appears in many regional and national publications as well as the Brainerd Dispatch. He may be reached at bill@billmarchel.com. You also can visit his website at BillMARCHEL.com.